Aberdeen Board of Aldermen denied a measure Tuesday to become a part of the Mississippi Department of Health’s water fluoridation program after a recommendation from Water Supervisor Ed White.
“You have to have more trained staff and a lot more monitoring to do it, and right now we’re just overtasked with the crew that we’ve got,” said Mayor Cecil Belle.
The already short-staffed crew of about six men had one person recently retire and one leave due to a cancer diagnosis. Now they have several new recruits training who’ve been with the system for only a month.
About 1.6 million Mississippians currently receive fluoridation through their water systems.
“State studies show that seventy percent of our third grade public school children have experienced tooth decay and 39 percent have untreated dental disease. If we cut those numbers by half, that would still mean that one out of every five kids here would still already have tooth decay – that’s our motivation for pushing this program,” said Dr. Nick Mosca, MDH state dental director.
Fluoridation Administrator John Justice presented the board with information on the program at their Aug. 21 meeting.
The aldermen held the matter under advisement after the presentation and tabled it for discussion with the water supervisor at yesterday’s meeting.
“We have a grant program that started in 2004 that pays for the equipment, necessary housing and engineering, operator training and two years of fluoride,” Justice said. “After those two years, the city takes over the cost of the operation.”
That estimated annual cost is $2 per person or $6 per meter.
Around 160 water systems are part of the program, and 40 new systems have received the startup grant.
Columbus was one of the three first water systems, along with Meridian and Laurel, to adopt the program in 1953.
Only Amory, Carson Water System between there and Nettleton and Quincy Water Association, which signed up last year, use the program in Monroe County.
“We just want to delay it until we get some more people down the road, because it really is a good program. We used to do it years ago, but the same situation with staff decreasing cut it. They may make it mandatory throughout the state later on, but right now it’s not,” Belle said.
There is no application required if the board decides to participate later. MDH sends a funding agreement for the mayor to sign immediately after they’re notified. Then an engineer visits the site to design specifics, and implementation of a new system generally takes less than a year.
Justice says that grant funding is going quickly, though.
“This is one of the few public programs that literally pays for itself plus some. The CDC shows that for every $1 spent on fluoridation, customers save $38 in dental treatment costs because it lowers decay rates from 20 to 40 percent,” Justice said.
The board also approved the tax millage and city budget they held a hearing for last week, as well as the budgets for the visitors’ bureau, water system and Magnolias Commission.
The only change in the city budget from last week was the addition of $20,000 to support countywide ambulance services, said Comptroller Glenn Howell.